- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

MACON, Ga. (AP) - Any time Gregg Allman gets behind an idea, it gets people’s attention.

That’s the case for Friends of Macon Music, which just got a $10,000 grant to paint and decorate pianos to put in venues around downtown Macon. Allman, the legendary singer and musician who helped found the Allman Brothers Band, “thinks it is a great way to connect the community to everyday music,” according to a Facebook post from the organization.

The idea is to encourage musicians to play on the pianos spontaneously and engage with residents. The pianos will be set up in six locations, including Tattnall Square Park, near the Rookery and at The Big House, a former home of the Allman Brothers on Vineville Avenue that’s now a museum.

The group - and more than 20 others - received a Downtown Challenge grant that funds community ideas for Macon’s urban core. Three pianos are finished, and more are on the way.

David Thompson, co-chairman of Friends of Macon Music, thinks the idea is something Macon needs to help spur a more connected community. He wants to see the pianos become staples of Macon’s downtown and entice artists to put their own stamp on the music scene.

“This is a great way to get people to interact who’d just walk past each other otherwise,” Thompson said. “We want to get people used to spontaneously creating music.”

And the pianos won’t just be painted. Plans call for a “piƱata piano” as well as one covered in LED lights.

It’s not a Macon-specific idea. The program has been implemented in major cities around the world with great success, Thompson said.

“There’s a big program in Berlin, a big program in Boston, and there’s an artist who started a campaign called ‘Play Me, I’m Yours,’ and he’s probably got 60 locations … around the globe.”

The pianos in that program are at a particular spot only temporarily, but Thompson would like to see Macon’s pianos in place a while longer.

“I see these as something we try to keep out in front of people, and when the weather and time makes one unplayable, we replace it with another one,” he said.

The Downtown Challenge grant is helping Friends of Macon Music go beyond the pilot progam, said Andrew Eck, an affiliate of the nonprofit group that supports the arts and music culture of Macon while cultivating “artists for the next generation.”

Many of the pianos were donated. Others were bought anywhere from $500 to $750. The costs so far have made it easy to prime the pianos, tune them and get them ready.

Once each piano is completed, a coat of polyurethane is put on to help guard against the elements. Large wheels help people at the locales bring the pianos inside at night.

“I think this gives musicians a unique opportunity to perfect their craft in a completely different arena,” Eck said.

The pianos fit one of the goals of the Macon Action Plan, a five-year plan that includes transforming “Macon’s sidewalks and public spaces as the center stage for community life.”

That also fits in with the Friends of Macon Music’s mission.

“We are truly trying to redevelop the music scene,” Eck said. “We’ve got to support the idea that we need music.”

The group is commissioning local artists who want to see Macon’s music thrive as well.

Caleb Brown, an artist and founder of FiNaO Enterprises, is proud to be a part of the project.

“I love it simply because I like music. Macon is like the Mecca of the arts, and I don’t understand why a lot of people don’t realize it,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how much of the music we listen to (has Macon origins) and the influence that a lot of people who came from Macon put on the world.”

His painted piano just made its debut near the Rookery. It bears the likenesses of three of Macon’s music legends - James Brown, Otis Redding and Little Richard Penniman.

Brown said he was proud to put his stamp on such icons.

“It means a lot to to me to put these legends on a piano and then put it downtown for everyone to see, especially in a city where the musical culture is so rich.”

Any business looking to sponsor a piano or artists willing to paint one can fill out an application at maconmusicinc.com

Told about the program, Allman told officials at The Big House that he wrote one of his most well-known songs on a similar piano.

“It makes me proud to see the good folks of Macon step up and contribute to the painted piano project,” according to an Allman email shared with The Telegraph. “As a matter of fact, a cheap old painted piano holds a special place in my heart. It was all banged up and painted this light blue color, but one day I sat down at it and wrote “Please Call Home,” a song that means a great deal to me. …

“You never know, man; maybe the next great song will come from someone playing one of the painted pianos while strolling around town.”

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Information from: The Macon Telegraph, https://www.macontelegraph.com

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